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Pre-integration across borders
A Plunge into Cold Water

Students from Vietnam studying together.
Students from Vietnam studying together. | © Goethe-Institut Hanoi

According to a forecast by the RWI – Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, Germany is dependent on an influx of 700,000 skilled workers every year. In this context, the Goethe-Institut prioritises pre-integration activities that cross national boundaries.

By Kristina von Klot

At the beginning, there is a dream. After arriving in Germany, it’s time for a reality check. Anyone who overcomes all of the hurdles to immigration will ultimately perceive the once-foreign country as their new adopted home – and feel that they have been welcomed into society. Every person who is portrayed in the video blog “One Step Ahead” has gone through this process, or a similar one. Part of the “My Path to Germany” portal, this blog shares experiences from people who have left their countries of origin to “start over from scratch” as skilled foreign workers. 33-year-old Beril, for example, describes how she worked as an elementary school teacher in Istanbul before emigrating to Augsburg, Germany, “for love”. When her Turkish diploma was not recognised by the German authorities, she started working for “Tür an Tür”, an association advocating for the rights and opportunities of immigrants. In a mentorship role, she advised her clients to have their most important documents translated and reviewed as soon as possible. Although the young women indicates that moving to Bavaria was not easy for her, it’s outweighed by her enthusiasm when she speaks of diversity and her experiences with people from all over the world. She concludes that immigrating to Germany was like taking a plunge into cold water – but worth it.

“My Path to Germany” is the ideal starting point to get comprehensive advice and exchange ideas: Available in 30 languages, the platform offers easy access to information and networks of every kind, not to mention 35 “infohouses” which have often been set up in public facilities in rural areas. It includes everything from information on universities and vocational training to interactive German language tutorials or how to record your own podcast to inspire others with your experiences: for example, 55-year-old master mechanic Mehmet, who travelled from Turkey to Germany over thirty years ago. Today, he runs his own garage with six employees and passes on his knowledge to the next generation: “Learn the language, learn the culture, learn the country, if you really want to live here.” Another audio interview introduces Mariia, a 26-year-old doctor from Russia. Despite her previous study of the language, it took her some time to become fluent in German. “It’s still hard – even at B2 level – to express everything that you want to say.” In her words: “There is no point at which you can say ‘Now I’ve learned everything there is to know about German’ (...) – there are no limits to the German language!”

The fact that language is a critical pillar of integration is confirmed by the findings of two recent studies by the Goethe-Institut: “Understanding Skilled Worker Mobility” investigates the motivations and expectations of 3,000 foreign skilled workers. “Approaches that Begin at Home” offers a needs analysis that includes policy recommendations. One finding: In order to be successful on the German labour market and to “arrive” in German society, pre-integration is indispensable; this is a process that begins in the respective home country and which teaches intercultural and job-specific skills in addition to language. Expectation management, involving experienced mentors who can clarify clichés and misinformation, plays a central role. Evidence suggests that the greater the cultural differences between the country of origin and Germany, the great the demand for and value of pre-integrative programmes like these.

“One of our most important jobs is to correct inaccurate expectations,” confirms Maria Merkel, Goethe-Institut employee and director of the Vivantes project. It is considered best practice in the context of linguistic and intercultural qualification of nursing and care workers from Vietnam, for example, and has already enabled more than 700 immigrants to enter the workforce in Germany. The Goethe-Institut’s collaboration with Vivantes Hauptstadtpflege Berlin and the Vietnamese Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs offers a yearlong additional specialist language qualification, after which participants can immediately transition to specialist training at a Vivantes nursing facility.

The fact that different worlds collide in the process presents the biggest challenge, notes Merkel, giving the following example: While in Vietnam, family members are responsible for providing elderly or ill relatives with food, bedding and allowances, these activities are considered the job of nurses in Germany. How to overcome cultural differences such as this? Merkel draws on roleplaying and language games she has adapted from theatre education to encourage people to express their opinions without fear, to make autonomous decisions and not to interpret mistakes as losing face. But everyone is always learning from one another in this process: In a highly individualistic German society, Vietnamese care workers may make an unusually good impression by demonstrating qualities such as thoughtfulness, composure and friendliness.

The “Triple Win” project in Tunisia is also an example of successful pre-integration; the Goethe-Institut, in partnership with the International and Specialized Services (ZAV) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), was successfully able to have several thousand professionals qualified. From Vietnam to North Africa: The Goethe-Institut strives to ensure pre-integration is a success while providing a seamless “chain” of mentorship. This approach connects the expertise of closely networked partners abroad with the skill set of our German team. The “Language Bridges” are designed to take on a crucial connective role here as a cross-border programme that begins at the respective Goethe-Institut in the country of origin and seamlessly transitions to qualifications that are continued by the twelve institutes in Germany.

Ideally, foreign skilled workers like Beril from Istanbul will already be comprehensively informed about what to expect when they arrive in Germany, as well as where to look for more information and further professional training. Because the earlier the reality check happens, the sooner immigrants can settle in to life in Germany and start to feel at home – without, like Beril, “having to start over from scratch”.